by Tim Mead
Getting On With Things
As he drove west on the Ohio Turnpike Labor Day morning, Cedric felt more alone than he'd ever felt, as if the best part of his life lay in the past.
His talk with Trey the night before had done much to dispel Cedric's residual anger with Tim. Now, thanks to Trey, he felt he really could wish Tim and Max well – could, as they say, move on. But the people he cared about were in Cleveland, Richmond, Cincinnati. Kent? And he was going toward Colby, where, though he'd made a few acquaintances, he had no friends.
Ms. Bott kept him busy at work. His schedule was full with clients whose needs ran the usual gamut from living wills to articles of incorporation and trusts. In between clients there were precedents Tyrese wanted him to look up.
One morning the first client of the day was Crystal Ferguson, whose makeup and hair style struck Cedric as being a bit extreme for 9:00 in the morning.
As she was ushered into the office by Ms. Bott, Cedric smiled, rose to his feet, and came around his desk with his hand extended.
"Mrs. Ferguson, good morning. I understand you want a divorce. Suppose you tell me about it."
"It's verbal abuse, mostly, but I'm afraid one of these days he's really gonna lose control and hurt me."
He returned to his desk and sat, his pen poised above a legal pad. "What's your husband's name?"
"Kevin. He used to work at the stamping plant in Toledo, but they closed down and he hasn't been able to find work since. And that's been two years. His union benefits have run out, so we're living on what I make."
"No, thank God."
"Does he resent you for bringing home the paycheck?"
"Yeah." She used her hand to fluff her nearly shoulder-length hair. "I mean, he's tried to find work, but the way the economy is . . . ."
"But he blames you?"
"He was good at first. He kept the house clean, did the shopping, fixed the meals."
"For some men, that would be hard."
"Well, he began to go to Friendly's for coffee in the morning where he met some other guys that were out of work. After a while, that changed. He'd go out for a beer in the middle of the afternoon."
Cedric made a note and waited for her to continue.
"Now he goes out and has beer with his friends and then comes home and keeps drinking. By the time I get home he's really pissed off. At the world and at me."
"Does he say why?"
"He doesn't make much sense, Mr. Jones. One day he's accusing me of being `high and mighty' because I've got a job. The next he claims I'm having an affair with the male customers at the shop."
"What kind of shop?"
"I'm a stylist and beauty consultant at Hair Today in Higgins."
"You have male customers?"
"Sure. About a third of our trade is men."
"Have you gone out with any of them?"
"Of course not."
Cedric must have looked puzzled, for she went on to explain, "Most of the guys who come into the shop are gay. But we do have some, uh, African-Americans with dreads or cornrows, too."
"Mrs. Ferguson, how did you happen to choose us to handle your divorce?"
"Oh, that's easy. My friend Stephanie – she works at the next station – says Tyrese James is a really good lawyer and he doesn't charge an arm and a leg."
"Does it bother you that I'm African-American?"
She seemed surprised by the question. "So's Stephanie, and she's my best friend."
"Do you work on any of the gay men who come into the shop?"
"Uh huh. Why?" She gave her gum a couple of chews and then continued, "Oh, you mean because Tyrese James is gay and you want to know if I'm prejudice?"
"No way! I was hoping he'd handle my case."
"Unless things get complicated, I think I can represent you. But Mr. James will be available if we should need him."
Despite the makeup, she looked defeated. "Yeah, I guess that's okay." She recrossed her legs. "You know, I hate to cut Kevin loose `cause I don't know what he'll do on his own. But I'm afraid of the man. You should see the look in his eye when he's drunk and starts yellin' at me."
"Have you ever called the police?"
"Well, if you're ever afraid he's going to be physically violent, call 911, okay?"
"Have you considered counseling?"
"Steph told me we should do that. But Kevin's the one who needs counseling." She popped her gum. "When I suggested it to him, he had a conniption, said he didn't need no effing counseling, he just needed a wife who knew her place and didn't, uh, screw around."
"Have you mentioned divorce to him?"
"No. I wanted to talk to a lawyer first."
"You really think divorce is the only solution?"
"You don't want to try again to persuade him to go to counseling with you?"
"It wouldn't do any good."
"Maybe you should think about it a while longer."
She cocked her head at him. "Are you trying to talk yourself out of a job, Mr. Jones?"
"No. But divorce is really the last resort."
"Honey, I don't plan to wait until he's messed up my face. You just draw up the papers, okay?"
"Right. If you're sure, we'll begin the paperwork."
Cedric occasionally teased Ms. Bott, calling her a slave driver. Although she never smiled, she took the complaint without reacting negatively. And she did keep him busy, mostly with paperwork of one sort or another but with a fair number of clients. He had regular telephone conversations with Tyrese, who was good at keeping track of what was going on in the Colby office without micromanaging.
So the days were full enough.
The evenings, however, were long and empty. He didn't have to take work home, so he was left to his own resources. He wasn't fond of eating alone in restaurants, even if the alternative was doing his own cooking. He'd enjoyed the kitchen work when he and Tim lived together. And since law school he had sometimes helped Angel fix meals. He could cook. It was just a lot less fun doing it by himself.
One evening he'd had enough. Enough of eating nuked food while sitting on a stool at the kitchen bar. Or from a tray in front of the television. But when he found himself eating microwaved chili in front of his computer, he decided he needed to get out.
Accordingly, the next evening, which was a Friday, he went home, changed into casual clothes, and headed for Nellie's. He could at least be among people, even if he didn't know any of them.
He found an empty table in the back. Although the place was doing a good business, he didn't have to wait long before someone appeared to take his order. The "someone" was a slim young African-American with very dark skin and very white teeth.
"Hi, I'm Brad. Can I take your order?"
"Hi, Brad. How's the house red?"
"Terrible. But don't tell anyone I said so."
"I don't want a whole bottle. What else do you have by the glass?"
"We're featuring Barefoot wines these days. Both the cab and the merlot are decent."
Cedric grinned at him. "Is that something you were told to say?"
Brad cleared his throat. "No, actually. I'm supposed to push the more expensive stuff, but try one of the Barefoot selections and if you don't like it, I won't charge you."
"That's more than fair. I'll have the cabernet."
"I'm gonna have something to eat later, but I'll just start with the wine."
"Would you like an appetizer with that? Corn chips and salsa, fried cheese sticks, hot clam dip?"
Cedric chuckled. "No, thanks. I'll just have the cabernet."
"Okay. I'll be right back."
And, surprisingly, he was. Despite their being busy, Brad managed to return with the wine before Cedric expected him.
"I'll check with you again in a while."
Cedric thanked him and took a sip. The wine wasn't especially complex, but it was pleasant. He relaxed, took another sip, and looked around the room.
He wondered how many gay people there were at Colby. He'd looked up the University's enrollment and learned that there were 25,000 give or take a few. If ten percent of those were gay, that would 2500. Of course, many of those could be closeted. On the other hand, that 2500 didn't include the rest of the population of Colby, the non-student portion. So there was a good pool from which Nellie's could – and obviously did – draw.
But one thing was obvious. He was the only person there alone. And that made him feel like shit. In gay years he was approaching middle age. And there he was, by himself on a Friday night. Pathetic. He wondered if he should just finish his wine and go. No, he told himself, you never know what could happen. And a decent burger sounds better than another Stouffer's meal tonight.
His gaze lighted on a couple in a booth across the way. One of them looked familiar. Who did he look like? Even though he was seated, Cedric could tell he was tall. With dishwater blond hair, the man was clean shaven. Since only his profile was visible, Cedric couldn't tell his eye color. Still, he reminded Cedric of someone.
The man across the table from the blond was Asian, smaller, but good looking. Cedric guessed he was younger than the blond, but with Asians he always had trouble estimating age.
The two were engaged in conversation; something about the comfortable way the two talked made him think they were lovers. He felt a pang of envy.
Just then Brad came back and asked if he wanted more wine.
"Yeah, please. And I'm ready to order supper, too."
Brad smiled. "What would you like?"''
"The swiss cheeseburger with mushrooms. And onion rings, I think."
"Would you like cole slaw or a salad with that?"
"No. I'm just being self-indulgent this evening."
"Oh. Okay." He picked up Cedric's empty glass. "I'll be right back with more wine and I'll put your order in."
Cedric looked back across the room. The couple had left. But he remembered who the blond reminded him of. Paul Walker. Perhaps if he'd seen the guy straight on he wouldn't have thought so. But in profile he looked very much like the actor. They were a good-looking couple.
He was still wondering what their story might be when Brad came back with his wine.
"So, this wine must be okay."
"Yeah, it's fine. Thanks for the recommendation."
Brad flashed him a smile. "You're welcome. I'll be back in a few with your food."
Cedric admired the boy's ass as he wove his way between tables. Cute, but definitely too young. Well, maybe not. He has to be 21 to serve wine, doesn't he?
And that was the trouble as he looked around Nellie's. It was a little early for cruising, but most of the people there were guys, most of them were in groups of four, five, or six – drinking, talking, laughing, nudging one another. Still, most of them seemed young. When you're in your twenties, five or six years can make a lot of difference. Then he remembered that the seven-year age difference hadn't mattered with Tim.
There were a few couples, mostly older than Cedric. But then, Cedric thought, guys who are living together would be home tonight, probably, eating a meal they'd fixed together, not making do with bar food.
Brad had just brought the burger and onion rings, interrupting his musings, which were becoming decidedly self-pitying.
"Can I get you anything else?"
"No, thanks," Ced replied absently. He stared at the burger in fascination. It was huge and messy, and he decided it would be easier to eat if he cut it in two. As he unwrapped the steak knife that had been wrapped in the napkin, he glanced up, a little surprised to see Harv Clay there.
"Hey, professor. Would you like to join me?"
"Hello, Cedric. I would indeed if you don't mind." Harv took the chair opposite Cedric and sat.
Before they'd had a chance to converse, Brad was there. "Professor Clay. What can I get you, sir?"
"Well, Brad, Cedric's burger looks tempting, but I'll have the chicken Caesar and whatever he's drinking." He grinned up at the waiter. "I assume you steered him away from the house plonk."
Brad rolled his eyes, grinned, and said, "Oh, yeah! But you sure you want red with your salad?"
Harv raised an eyebrow, but his smile showed he wasn't serious when he asked, "What are you, the wine police? Yes, I want the red."
Brad displayed a lot of teeth. Then he turned and displayed his fine rear as he sashayed off.
"The butt swinging was all for you, you know," Harv said.
"Something you said the evening we met clued me in that you're not family."
"True, but I like this place. And I'll bet I know a lot more people here than you do."
"Well, professor, I know you. And I suppose I know Brad. So if there's anyone else in the room you know, you'll have won your bet."
"What a shame! We need to get you introduced into the community. Are you making any contacts at work?"
"Not really. It isn't a good idea to socialize with clients. Besides, most of them are, well, uh . . ."
"It's okay, Cedric. You're about to tell me that your clients are older?"
"Well, if you weren't sitting with a troll like me, you might get cruised."
"Harv! You're not a troll. You're a good looking man."
Harv grinned. "For an old man, you mean? Thanks. Now, go ahead and eat. Don't let your food get cold."
"You sure you don't mind?"
Harv waved away the question. "I think you've come to the right place. Eventually most of the gay community wanders in here. Of course, most of them will be students, and you might consider them a little young."
"I was thinking that about our waiter, as a matter of fact."
"Did he come on to you?"
"Not really. He's just friendly. And, well, he is cute."
After offering his onion rings, Cedric took one himself. They were crisp and tasty, not soggy like some.
Brad was back shortly with Harv's salad.
"Looks good," Cedric said. "I didn't know they had anything like that here. It's not your typical bar food."
"You're right. You can't get anything like it at The Cougar."
They concentrated on their food for a few minutes.
"Well, Harv! I wouldn't have expected to find you here."
They looked up to find a tall, thin man with black hair and a van dyke. He wore a lime-colored silk shirt and white linen slacks that looked as if he hadn't yet sat down in them.
Oh, honey, Cedric thought, not after Labor Day!
"Hello, Sidney. I've been coming to Nellie's for years. I like the atmosphere. The food's decent. They don't water the drinks. I have many friends in the gay community." He paused. "And there's you, of course."
"Oh, don't be silly, Harvard. Of course you do come here more than any other straight man I know. I just thought now you've retired you'd get out of this backwater town." He didn't wait for an answer. "Now, why don't you introduce me to your friend?"
"Cedric Jones, this is Sidney Oliver, or at least that's the name he claims. He's a member of the Theatre Arts faculty. Sidney, this young man is now running the Colby office of Tyrese James' law firm."
Sidney held out his hand and said, "Don't get up, gorgeous. So you work for the divine Tyrese."
Not quite sure how to respond to the comment about Tyrese, Cedric took Sidney's hand. Before he had a chance to say anything, Sidney continued, "Well, Cedric,I know my colleague here had to show his passport to get in. Did you two come to Nellie's together, or are you by any chance family?"
"Sidney, that's impertinent," Harv exclaimed with a hint of asperity.
"No problem. Yeah, I'm family. I think maybe that was a prerequisite for the job."
"Surely you're not sleeping with Tyrese! I don't imagine Digby would be very happy about that!"
Harv made shooing motions. "Sidney, just go away. Let us eat in peace. With people like you around, I'm afraid poor Cedric won't want to come back here again."
Sidney put his hands on his hips. "I'm on to you. You're just a sad old queen who's never had the intestinal fortitude to come out of the closet and you want this delicious creature all to yourself."
Harv sighed. "Just get lost, Sidney."
"You must come back some time without your chaperone, Cedric. It was nice to meet you." Sidney flounced away.
"I'm sorry about him. The amazing thing is that he has a following among the theatre students, God help us. When he's not doing his gayer than gay act, he is intelligent. And he really mentors some of the GLBT kids."
"He was rude to you."
Harv rolled his eyes. "He's harmless, I suppose." He looked around, spotted Brad, got his attention, and gestured with his empty wine glass.
Brad was there in minutes with fresh glasses for each of them. "Next time you guys come in you should just order a bottle."
"Point taken, thanks," Cedric said.
"Ced, do you like theatre? Classical music?"
"Yes to both."
"Well, I've been thinking. When the fall term gets geared up, we're going to have lots of music events. There'll be a major production by my department along with several lesser ones. If you're interested, you could come along to some of them with me. You might be surprised at the quality of the performances. And you might meet some interesting people.
"That's very kind of you, Harv. I'd like that. Thanks."
"Oh, and I've just thought of another way by which you might become acquainted with people. Have you heard of the Colby Queers?"
Cedric chuckled. "No, can't say I have. Is that an organization?"
"Not really. It's a social group. They get together several times a year, I don't know exactly how many, and have drinks and chat. It's by invitation only."
"I take it you've never been?"
"No. I don't qualify." Harv smiled at him.
"Sounds a bit stuffy."
"I've heard rumors around town that they're orgies, but I'm sure they aren't true. More reliable sources tell me they're more like cocktail parties where the gentlemen get dressed up, have excellent nosh, and sip their martinis or whatever."
"Still sounds stuffy."
Harv wiped his lips with his napkin and then put it beside his plate. "I dare say you'll be able to find out for yourself. The people who organize those affairs are your landlords, so you'll most likely be invited to the next one. Now, I've got to get to the football game."
"I thought that was tomorrow and it was in Athens."
"The University is playing Ohio U away tomorrow, but tonight the local high school team's playing in Cougar stadium. The son of one of my departmental colleagues is on the team, and I've promised to go cheer him on. Would you like to come?"
"Uh, thanks, Harv. I appreciate the invitation, but I don't think so."
Harv took out his wallet, extracted some money, put it beside his plate, and stood. "Well, Cedric, thanks for sharing your table. I've enjoyed it."
Cedric reached up to shake Harv's hand. "My pleasure. I hope we'll bump into each other again soon."
"No doubt we will."
It had been a beautiful, sunny September day. But after sundown, the temperature had dropped. Cedric could hear the sound of a band coming from the stadium. A nice evening for football.
As he walked, he experienced once more the feeling of being separate, apart from the community, alone in the midst of people. He thought he might have felt that way when he went to Ann Arbor. But law school is a total immersion sort of experience, and he was much too busy to think about how he felt. Or to establish lasting friendships.
For lack of anything better to do when he got home, he put a load of laundry in the washer and tried to watch a Tigers game on television. He'd rooted for the Indians all his life, in good seasons and, mostly, bad. He'd played baseball in high school and in college, so he was quite familiar with the ins and outs of the game. But he simply couldn't get interested in this particular game. He didn't care who won, and neither team was playing well enough to hold his attention.
His thoughts drifted, as they often did these days, to Trey's visit, to Tim and Max and the time when he'd regained his memory. He'd always had great respect for Trey's insights. And Trey was right that Cedric should just wish Tim and Max well and get on with things.
He'd managed to do that while he was at Ann Arbor because he was too busy to think about the past. But when he moved back home and went to work for his father, he'd had more time. And the memory had festered. He'd been so elated when he was finally able to remember the lost year, to remember the happiness he and Tim had shared. And then Angel had poured icy water on all that when she'd told him about Tim and Max. She'd been right, of course. No way could he have gone to Tim and said, "I'm back!"
For the last couple of years the feeling that Tim hadn't loved him as much as he thought kept recurring. If only the little prof had remained true for another couple of weeks, he and Cedric would be together and happy, as they had been before the hit and run.
But that, as Trey pointed out, was all spilt milk. All he could do now was pull up his socks, as his high school baseball coach was fond of saying, and make a new life for himself.
He couldn't help feeling, however, that he was alone and more or less friendless in Colby. Rationally considered, he wasn't friendless. He had his boss, Tyrese. The guys across the hall seemed nice. The old prof, Harv, was someone he looked forward to seeing again. But, dammit, he needed someone special. A man. A hard body. Companionship. An understanding spirit. And sex.
Sighing, he turned off the television, went to his bedroom, undressed, and picked up the latest Grisham, which finally put him to sleep.
The book was beside him and the light still on when he awoke on Saturday morning.
After breakfast Cedric remembered last night's load of wash, which he put in the dryer. He grabbed his keys and headed for Kroger's to do his weekly grocery shopping.
In the condiment aisle he saw a tiny figure stretching to get a jar of olives from the top shelf. He came up behind her, reached over her head, took the olives, and handed them to her.
"Oh, you startled me!"
It was Martina Bott.
"Good morning, Ms. B. Sorry I surprised you."
"Not at all. It's very kind of you, Mr. Jones."
He thought he saw a hint of a smile.
"Thank you. Have a pleasant weekend." Without giving him time to respond, she turned and pushed her cart down the aisle.
He had a vision of the woman with her feet up at the end of the day, sipping a martini. No, he decided, she'd not put her feet up. She probably drinks straight bourbon while sitting at attention.
As he stood in front of the meat case, debating between ground round and ground sirloin, another shopper stepped next to him and said, "Cedric."
He turned to see the smiling face of his neighbor.
"Blake, doing the Saturday chore, I see. How are you, man? How's Adam?" They shook hands.
"I'm fine, thanks. Adam usually comes along, but this morning he has a meeting with a student."
"Who does the cooking in your household?"
"We share. It's fun doing it together."
"By `it' you're still talking about cooking," Cedric asked with a grin. The grin faded as he thought about cooking with Tim.
Blake smiled. "Yeah, in this case I am." He looked down into the meat case for a moment and then turned back to Cedric.
"Would you be free for supper this evening?"
Am I free? Man, I'm always free!
Grateful he hadn't said that out loud, Cedric responded, "Yeah, `fraid so."
His neighbor really did have a nice smile. Adam, he decided, was a lucky man.
"Adam and I are off to Ann Arbor to see a friend of his. Before we go we'll put the makings of beef stew in the crock pot. Would you like to come over about six for a drink? And then we'll have the stew, I'll pick up some kind of bread, and we'll fix a salad."
"Sounds great. You sure Adam won't mind?"
"He'll be delighted. We've been meaning to have you over, and just the other day . . . well, never mind."
"What can I bring?"
"How about some wine?"
"Done! Since I'm only across the hall, I can open it and let it breathe a while."
"Perfect. Oh, and no need to dress up. Adam and I'll be wearing jeans, most likely."
"Got it. Thanks."
They shook hands and went their separate ways. Cedric made sure to pick up a couple of bottles of a decent Australian cabernet before checking out.
To close his door, Cedric held the unopened bottle of cabernet in the crook of his left elbow while gripping the opened bottle by the neck. Thus he could use his right hand to pull the door to after him. When he crossed the hall, he saw that his hosts' door was ajar. He shoved it open with his foot.
Adam appeared from the kitchen.
"Cedric, glad you could come. And you brought wine. Great! Here, let me take that."
As Cedric handed Adam the wine, Blake appeared from the bedroom hallway.
Blake exclaimed, "Ced, it's good to have you here!" whereupon he grabbed him into a tight hug.
"I'll be right back," Adam said.
As Blake seemed in no hurry to let go, Cedric allowed himself to enjoy the closeness. Except for Trey, he hadn't been hugged by a young male in a very long time.
"Okay, don't be selfish," Adam said, having returned from the kitchen, "it's my turn." So Cedric was handed, as it were, from Blake to his partner.
"Well, now, gents, that's the friendliest welcome I've had since I came to Colby."
"The first of many, we hope," Adam said.
"Thanks." Cedric sniffed appreciatively. "Man, it smells good in here."
"Oh, that's supper. But we can sit and have a glass of wine first, unless you're starving."
Just then Blake reappeared with two glasses of wine. He handed one to Cedric, the other to Adam. Then he went back to the kitchen.
Adam set down his glass. "Excuse me, Cedric. I'll just help Blake for a sec."
They returned quickly. Blake had a glass of wine in one hand and a small bowl in the other. Adam had a larger bowl with pita triangles. After putting the food on the coffee table, the two hosts sat next to each other on the sofa facing it. Cedric sank into a comfortable upholstered chair at right angles to the sofa.
"That dark gunk's caponata. My grandmother makes it. It's better than it looks," Blake said.
"Oh, I've had caponata," Cedric said, helping himself.
When he'd chewed and swallowed, he said, "Mmm. That's good. Now, I'm curious. I don't want to be nosy, but Blake said you were going to Ann Arbor today, right?"
"That's right. I suspect you know that city well," Adam said.
"Well, I lived there for two years."
"Do you know Biggs and Lucarno, the used book store?"
"I remember seeing it in passing. But they deal in rare books, don't they?"
"I've never had the time to get into that, though I confess if I had the money I might be tempted."
Blake chuckled. "We didn't go there about books, Ced."
Blushing, Adam said, "Books were on the agenda. And you know I was strongly attracted by that Djuna Barnes first edition."
"Yeah, right. Don't pay any attention to him, Ced. Tony Lucarno, who owns the place, was Adam's lover until I stole him away. Adam, that is. So it wasn't just the books we were checking out."
Adam sighed. "He's just winding me up, Cedric. Tony's a lovely man, and I've bought several even lovelier books from him over the years."
Blake rolled his eyes at Cedric and took a sip of wine.
The bread was warm, soft inside with a crunchy crust; the salad contained greens plus tomatoes and yellow bell peppers; and the stew was delicious. When Cedric complimented them on the main dish, Adam replied, "It's wonderful what some bay leaves and a little Worcestershire sauce will do."
He was pretty sure there was more to it than that, but he didn't want to press the issue.
During a lull in the conversation, Cedric asked Blake about his major.
"I'm majoring in English."
"You plan to teach?"
Blake grinned. "Well, that's what I told Adam when I asked him to be my advisor. But at that time I really was only interested in majoring in Adam."
It was Adam's turn to smile. "And he's becoming a perennial student, I'm afraid."
"Does that mean you don't want to teach?"
"Oh, I'd like that if I could do it here, where the prof is. But teaching jobs are hard to find."
Where the prof is.
"And there's the matter of grad school, don't forget," Adam reminded Blake.
"Well, at least that'd give me a reason to stick around here for a few more years."
Adam looked at Cedric. "I'm trying to persuade him to go back to writing."
"Go back to writing?"
"Yes. He wrote a complete novel before he came to Colby. But then he deleted it from his computer."
"Because it was typical first-novel autobiographical trash about a young gay guy whose parents didn't understand him. Besides, one published novelist in the Colby gay community is probably enough."
"Who's the novelist?"
"Ben Moss. He works for the County, in their P.R. department. His book, Picking up the Pace sold very well. And he's well into his second one, or so I hear."
Cedric made a mental note to find a copy of the book. He took a sip of wine and then looked briefly at Adam before turning back to the younger man. "You just said it was a first novel, Blake. Doesn't that presuppose a second? Besides, it seems to me if you were shrewd enough to see its flaws, you're probably shrewd enough to write a novel that avoids them."
Looking thoughtful, Blake shook his head. "I'm not so sure. There are critics whose literary insights are fantastic but who can't write fiction or poetry or whatever themselves. Maybe I'm just one of those."
"I still wish I could have read it." Adam turned to Cedric. "Have you ever been close to someone?"
"Yes, once upon a time."
"Well, imagine what it would have been like if that person had written a novel before he met you and had destroyed it. Wouldn't you have longed to be able to read it?"
"I imagine I would have, yeah."
Blake mopped the last of the gravy from his plate with a piece of bread and then ate it. "Doesn't matter. It's water under the bridge now. Besides, I won't have time to write after I graduate. I'll need to find gainful employment."
"Blake, you know – " Adam began.
Blake looked at Cedric and said, "My grandmother's paying my tuition until I get my degree here. Then I'm on my own."
"Surely there are scholarships," Cedric said.
"Right. Which is a temptation to go to grad school."
Cedric sensed he was missing a subtext of some sort.
"I've told him he can take as much time as he wants to work on a novel." Adam sounded resigned.
"Sorry, Ced, we don't need to subject you to this argument. We have it about once a week. The thing is, I don't want to feel like a kept man."
Adam sighed. "Yes, Cedric, I apologize. Blake and I will work this out. The main thing is we love each other."
"Keep talking about it, guys. You'll eventually settle on something. Just be thankful for what you've got."
Both his hosts nodded in agreement before rising to clear the table.
Dessert was apple pie with ice cream.
"Sorry it's from Kroger's," Adam said. "Neither of us has mastered pie crust yet."
"No matter. The first apple pie of the fall. Outstanding!"
They had coffee in the living room. Cedric felt at ease with Adam and Blake. Although highly intelligent, both were laid-back, unpretentious men who clearly loved each other. Being with them reminded him a little of the brotherhood he'd enjoyed at Kent.
But the time came when, content though he was, he thought he should leave. He certainly didn't want to overstay his welcome.
Putting his cup and saucer on the coffee table, he said, "Guys, this has been really nice. Thanks for having me. You have a knack for making people feel welcome."
Blake leaned forward. "Ced, it's good to have you for a neighbor. Sorry it's taken us so long to get you over here for a meal."
"Indeed!" Adam said.
"But when Tim called – "
Adam frowned at Blake and shook his head. Blake stopped talking.
Then, looking sheepish, he continued, "Oh, sorry. I guess the cat's out of the bag now, isn't it?"
"Uh, guys, what's going on?"
"Cedric, please understand that since we first met you a few weeks back, we've wanted to have you over for a meal. And as Blake said, we're sorry it took us so long to get around to it."
"Hey – "
Adam held up his hand. "But then Tim called."
Something in Cedric's stomach clenched tight. He waited.
"Someone had given him your Colby address, which he recognized immediately as being the same as ours, except for the unit number."
Trey! Well, he hadn't told Trey not to do that.
Adam spoke slowly, as if choosing his words with special care. "He said he thought we should make a point of getting to know you. Said he thought we might help you make friends here. And that you were a very special person." He took a deep breath, expelled it, and looked at Blake, who nodded. "And that's all."
Cedric found himself back in his own apartment, not sure how he'd gotten there, hoping he'd remembered to thank his hosts for the meal and the pleasant evening.
It wasn't until he'd gotten into bed that the tears came.
Tim! The bastard. The sweet bastard!
If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim